Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Christianity is taken seriously in the LCMS

Since some of the drama surrounding the curious case of Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker has played out upon this website (see A Useful Discussion), I commend the following analysis of the ensuing drama over the dismissal of Rev. Dr. Becker, which was made public by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday, July 20.

The analysis comes from Mr. Aaron Wolf, a lay member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and managing editor for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, in a blog post on the Chronicles blog (read the entire article linked here).

The conclusion of the piece says it all: “Meanwhile, I’d like to thank the Post-Dispatch for reporting on this little bit of inside baseball.  It’s far from an embarrassing exposé.  If anything, it says that Christianity is taken seriously in the LCMS.” 

Indeed, we do take it seriously. And that is the point really. Despite the fact that some may consider this bad press, it is just the opposite. It is evidence that the Spirit is still at work among us to lead us into all the truth (John 16:13). 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Report on Resolution 4-06A

The Office of the President of the LCMS has issued the report from the Task Force regarding Licensed Lay Deacons as called for by the 2013 Convention. Gottesdienst has published many things over the years regarding AC XIV and the Wichita Resolution. Here are the proposals from the Task Force (as quoted in their Executive Summary):
After visitations to districts, discussions with lay deacons and supervising pastors, consultation with the Council of Presidents, and input from theologians, the Task Force is hereby reporting to the Synod as mandated by 2013 Res. 4-06A. Briefly, we propose that:
1. Lay deacons who are regularly serving pastorally—as the de facto pastors of LCMS congregations—should be examined by a special LCMS colloquy process, receive further theological preparation where necessary, and be approved for ordination. Their roster status would be that of a Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP). (See Recommendation 1.)
2. The ongoing reality of geographic, financial, and demographic challenges that make it difficult to fill the calling needs of LCMS congregations and missions should be addressed by means of SMP and various other non-residential pastoral training programs in which future pastors are identified locally and then prepared for service.
Need-based financial assistance for preparation will be available through the Pastoral Education Department of the LCMS. (See Recommendations 2 and 3.)
3. Districts should not neglect to explore other means of addressing the challenges to provide the ministry of Word and Sacrament for its congregations and missions. Such means include multi-point parishes, technological aids, and greater use of inactive pastors. (See Recommendations 4, 5, and 6.)
4. The role of the royal priesthood of baptized believers is not demeaned, but enhanced by a right understanding and practice of the Office of Public Ministry, for as believers share the Gospel in their daily lives and vocations, they are and always have been the primary arm of Christian outreach to an unbelieving world. This evangelistic
or witnessing role should be emphasized and enhanced, not diminished. (See Recommendations 7 and 8.)
May the Holy Spirit guide the discussion and consideration of this report, in the name of Christ Jesus, to the glory
of the Father. 
Rev. President Harrison and this Task Force deserve our thanks and our support in seeing this through to the 2016 Convention. They have exercised calm churchmanship while not shying away from actually leading. This is good news. This is a good proposal to bring our practice in line with our Confession. This use of the SMP program was discussed at the 2007 Convention and was the deciding factor in many a confessional vote for the program (including more than one Gottesdienst editor in attendance as delegates in 2007). There has been much concern over how the SMP program has been operated. There’s always room for improvement. But the fact remains that SMP leads to ordination, to men rite vocatus. We can urge and argue for better training within the program, greater oversight at the seminaries, etc. Again: always room for improvement. But this is what we hoped SMP would indeed be used for: to give the people of God what they deserve and what the Scripture demands: men called, examined, and ordained for the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Every confessional pastor should support this proposal with prayer and with letters to the floor committee who will eventually be charged with drafting these proposals into a Convention Resolution in Milwaukee.  The perfect doesn’t need to be the enemy of the good. Oremus et laboremus . . . . 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Things you may have forgotten you believed in: Mortal Sin and the Loss of Salvation

What does saving faith look like? And what does it not look like? The chief teacher of the Augsburg Confession was not afraid to ask and answer those questions.

It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, ... and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (SA III.3.43)

So there is a difference between "having and feeling original sin" and, on the other hand, "falling into manifest sins" such as "adultery, murder, blasphemy," etc. So it turns out you can out-sin God, as the Apology confesses: "But when we say of such faith, that it is not mere idle thinking, but that it delivers us from death and begets new life in our hearts, and is a work of the Holy Spirit, it does not co-exist with mortal sin, but produces good fruits only so long as it is really present" (Ap. II.45, emphasis added).

Now, in one sense it is surely true that you can't out-sin God: Jesus died for every sin. But in the sense in which Luther and the Apology are speaking you can out-sin God: you can drive faith and the Holy Spirit away with mortal sin, which is clearly a Confessional category. (This is the problem with theology by catch phrase: most catches phrases are both true and false depending on context and definition of terms.) Of course, you can be brought to repentance and come to faith again, as happened with David (thanks be to God). But it can also happen that you "make a shipwreck of your faith" and are not reconverted like Hymenaeus and Alexander in I Tim 1:19-20.

None of us will ever be rid of the Old Adam until we set aside this flesh. We will all always need to struggle against the flesh in the Romans 7 way: repenting in agony when we end up "doing what we don't want to do." Struggle, stumbling, repenting, trusting and all that continually: that is the Christian life. That is not mortal sin.

But ceasing the struggle, giving in, willfully choosing open sin as something you do want to do....well, that's a different thing altogether: mortal sin.

Failing to distinguish between the common struggle against original sin and falling into open, manifest sin is a failure of the first order in Lutheran theology. It first cropped up in what became known as the Antinomian Controversy. The quotation from Luther above is a summary of his definitive response to this controversy in the Antinomian Theses. You can (and should) read a full treatment of the topic in Walther's Law & Gospel, Thesis X: "In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living" [emphasis added].

What is a mortal sin in Lutheran theology? Not the same thing as in Roman theology, of course. In Lutheran theology it is not the objective magnitude of the sin (adultery vs stealing a pack of gum), but rather the willful choosing of the sin against better knowledge. Every sin is in fact mortal objectively: that is, every sin is objectively deserving of death. But not every sin is mortal subjectively, or in effect. Other sins are mortal in effect because they drive faith and the Holy Spirit away. Thus Luther's example of David's prolonged, willful, deliberate sin in the Bathsheba and Uriah episode. A prolonged, willful, deliberate sin of stealing a pack of gum would also be a mortal sin in effect because it too "drives away the Holy Ghost." So it's not the objective magnitude of the sin, but the active, willful, choosing of the sin against better knowledge that is the antithesis of repentant faith and thus mortal sin.

To learn more about mortal sin, the possibility of the loss of salvation, and how this should inform our preaching you can do no better than reading that Thesis X by Walther. To delve more deeply, see the sources collected by Schmid in his Doctrinal Theology (Section 41 I bracketed numbers 15 and 16. Page 421ff if you have the print edition) Schmid collects all the classic Lutheran theological sources from the Book of Concord down through Chemnitz, Gerhard, Hollaz, etc., and arranges them all by topic. So it's very handy on any topic you want to explore and sends you ad fontes.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Chemnitz on the 8th Commandment and Whether Not All Lies are Sinful

In my discussion on holy marriage at the Gottesdienst Conference in Hamel, IL I brought up the occasional necessity of lying to protect one's spouse. When I referenced the argument below it was discovered that it was not well-known. I am therefore posting it for your edification. The argument is flawless in my mind and well worth working through carefully but here is the money quote: "To conceal something for an honest and just cause in matters which need not be said for reasons of right or usefulness, is not a lie."

Martin Chemntiz. Loci Theologici Vol. 2. Trans. J. A. O. Preus. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989. 424-425.


In the third place, because at this point the ques¬tion of ordinary lying is pertinent, we shall note the main categories of this subject. Scripture in a general sense prohibits all lying. Eph. 4:25; Ps. 5:6, "You destroy all those who speak lies." Wisd. of Sol. 1:11, "A lying tongue is a man's destruction." 1 John 2:21, "No lie is of the truth." Ecclus. 7:14, "Refuse ever to tell a lie."

But there are in Scripture certain examples of holy people whose lying must not be rashly con-demned. Abraham in Gen. 12:13 and 20:2; Jacob in Gen. 27:19; Joseph dissimulated before his brothers in Gen. 42:7 and 44:15. Of the midwives in Ex. 1:19 and in v. 21 it says, "The Lord built them houses." Luke 24:28, Christ pretended that He was going farther on. 1 Sam. 21:13, David pretended to be insane. 1 Sam. 16:5, when Samuel was about to anoint David so that Saul would not find out, he pretended that he must go to Bethlehem to make a sacrifice. 2 Kings 10:19, when Jehu was about to kill the prophets of Baal, he pretended that he was going to make a solemn sacrifice to Baal. Thus also Judith in 11:4 ff.; Jael in Judg. 4:18. Joshua in 8:5 pretends to flee, and in Joshua 2:4, Rahab deceives. Ex. 5:3, "We shall make a three-day journey to sacrifice." 1 Sam. 19:13, Michal, the wife of David, frees her husband by lying. 1 Sam. 20:28, Jonathan saves David's life by saying something misleading.

From this arises an argument. Augustine simply says [De Mendacio, 21, MPL 40.516], "Anyone who thinks that there is any kind of lie which is not sin is foolishly deceiving himself." Again [ibid., 6, MPL 40.494], "There is no arrangement, no good purpose, no dispensation whereby permission, human or divine, can be given to tell a lie." Again [ibid., MPL 40.495], "Even if someone flees to you who can be saved from death by your lie, you shall not lie. For it is written, 'The mouth which lies kills the soul,' Wisd. of Sol. 1:11. Thus, since eternal life is lost by lying, we must never lie for the sake of someone's temporal life." And Augustine gives his reasons: (1) Scripture simply and in an all-inclusive way prohibits and condemns all lying. (2) Words have been established, not in order that through them men might deceive one another, but in order that through them they might communicate their thoughts to the understanding of another person. Therefore, to use words for a purpose for which they have not been established, but to deceive, is a sin. Likewise, the commandment of God is that man speak in no other way than he believes in his heart. John says in his First Epistle, 2:21, "He who loves a lie is not of the truth." (3) If a person excuses lying on the ground that sometimes we can help someone by lying, then by the same line of reasoning murders and robberies can take place because sometimes we can help a person by these sins. But when he comes to an explanation for the instances in Scripture which we have mentioned above, he is involved in all kinds of contortions. Sometimes, he says, that for those who are not perfect it is only a venial sin. Sometimes he sets up degrees of lies whereby one lie is more serious than another and yet none is without guilt, although some are not of great guilt. Somewhere he says that things which are said in joking should not be included as sins. Gregory says that it is permitted in the Old Testament but prohibited only in the New Testament. Thus in the case of the midwives in Ex. 1:19, because of the guilt of their lying, their eternal reward was commuted to a temporal compensation in that God caused houses to be built for them. Ambrose brings up this question: God gave Abraham the command to sacrifice his son, yet because he did not want to do it, was that a lie? Jerome gets closer: Sometimes dissimulation is useful and lawful because Christ Himself pretended in Luke 24:28. Even Augustine says [ibid., 4, MPL 40.489], "To conceal the truth is one thing; to say something false or to speak a lie is something else." Others, in order to excuse Abraham for dissimulating before his servants in Gen. 22:5, refer to the mystical sense of the passage. There are many such opinions on this subject in Gratian, Question 22,18 and in Lombard 3.38 [MPL 192.833-35].

It is manifest that this question is not answered by this variety of opinions, but rather consciences are only more disturbed. Thus we must seek a proper explanation from the true sources which can be correctly applied to all cases. This can be properly done on the basis of the definition of lying. We must note how perilous generalizations can be when used as definitions, as when someone says that it is a lie not to tell the truth. Augustine is correct when he says [De Mendacio, 4, MPL 40.491], "A lie is a false indication of the voice with the willful intention of deceiving." The meaning of the Eighth Commandment can be derived from these very words. For the definition of lying which is forbidden and condemned in Scripture, these points are required: (1) Something false must be presented. (2) This arises out of a "double heart," as it says in Ps. 12:2, that is, when the conscience is persuaded that the matter is false which is given out as the truth. For when someone says that he believes a certain thing to be true, even though in itself it is false, this is still not a lie, because it is not done against conscience. Conversely, when someone says something which he believes is false, even though in itself it is true, it is still a lie, because it is said contrary to the conscience of the one saying it. On this basis they make a distinction between lying (mentin) and a lie (mendacium dicere). (3) There must be some will or intention of deceiving. A violation of the Eighth Commandment involves speaking against one's neighbor. (4) It is also a lie, when, although there is no desire to harm one's neighbor, a person speaks out of the vanity or pride of his mind and does not have a credible or honest reason. Statements of this kind are the lies of flattery, boasting, and things of this kind. Chrysostom, In Matt., says, "Even if they do not have lies, whom do they deceive, for they are lying to themselves?" Under the heading of a sin of omission is the case of lying by wickedly withholding the truth when it would be right, useful, and necessary to speak it, with the intention of deceiving and harming someone

From these basic points we can easily settle the question as to whether every lie is a mortal sin. It is a lie to speak falsely when the truth has been covered up, whether because of evil desire to work harm or because of the empty pride of one's own mind. Therefore not every hiding of the truth is a lie. For a lie is not only hiding something, but it involves telling a falsehood instead of the truth. Thus it is not only the concealing of a thing but rather the corrupting of a certain matter, contrary to conscience, something which ought to be said, which constitutes a lie. Therefore this rule is sure and correct: To conceal something for an honest and just cause in matters which need not be said for reasons of right or usefulness, is not a lie. Again, when a willful revelation of something would be a sin, it is not a lie to say or show something else which is indirect, but it is lawful to use figurative language which does not reveal the points under discussion. For example, see 2 Sam. 17:19.

All cases can be evaluated by the use of this rule. Yet the examples of various godly people ought not be imitated indiscriminately. For often in these cases they have fallen into sin out of fear or stupidity. From the basic teaching of the Eighth Commandment we can draw the principle that it does prohibit hiding or distorting that which ought to be said.

This definition is supported by dividing the matter of lying into certain varieties. Augustine lists eight kinds of lying which are cited at great length in Gratian and Lornbard:19 (1) Lying in the teaching of religion. (2) That which not only benefits no one but hurts someone. (3) That which benefits one person in such a way that it hurts someone else. (4) That which is done purely out of the desire to lie and deceive. (5) That which is done from a desire to please. (6) That which hurts no one and profits someone, that is, to avoid hurting his person. (7) That which harms no one and benefits someone in order to avoid harm to his property. (8) That which hurts no one and benefits no one, as in the case of protecting a person from some ailment of his body. Augustine himself correctly brings in this distinction in commenting on Matthew 5, and the scholastics draw from this the commonly held distinction that there are three kinds of lying: malicious, purposeful, and jesting. Thomas adds this distinction," Certain lies are sinful in that they say too much and others that they say too little."

Friday, June 26, 2015

Draft For Trinity IV, with special attention to Marriage

Here's my first draft of a sermon for Sunday in the context of my flock's life in an America that continues to shed the last vestiges of being a society of Christians based on Biblical norms. Does anyone have a better collect for the conclusion? Other thoughts on what to say this Sunday and how to say it?


Trinity IV, 2015
Luke 6
Rev. H. R. Curtis
Trinity – Worden, IL & Zion – Carpenter, IL

The events of the day suggest that we look at our Gospel lesson with an eye toward marriage and the church’s place in society and our place in both the church and society.

First of all, what does Jesus mean, and what does He not mean, with His statements about “judge not….”

Does this mean that we are not to attempt to judge between what is right and what is wrong?
Well, let us take a clear cut example. Does Jesus mean to say that when we see things as a man walking into a church and shooting up the place we should say, “Well, who am I to judge?”  Or that when we see someone breaking into our neighbor’s house that we should not call the police because, after all, who are we to judge about what’s right and what’s wrong? That is ludicrous. For the Bible says in I Thessalonians 5:22: Stay away from every form of evil. How are we to stay away from evil if we can’t judge between evil and good? So clearly Jesus is not saying that we should be ignorant of the difference between what is right and what is wrong.

Well, do the words of Jesus, judge not lest ye be judged, mean that while we can tell evil from good, we should refrain from saying that what a specific person is doing is right or wrong. That is, maybe we should be able to say what is right and wrong in the abstract (murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, lying is wrong) but that we should not judge the individual actions of individual people as right or wrong. But that can hardly be what Jesus means because the same Jesus says in Matthew 18: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

So Jesus says that we should indeed notice when other people sin, and that we should even confront our brother with his sin in order that we might “gain our brother” – that is, gain him back to the life God wants him to live, helping to turn him from his sin and find forgiveness in Christ. This is exactly what St. Paul says in the book of Galatians: Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

And there it is: that is what Jesus means by our Gospel lesson today, “you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” We are not to be high and mighty. We are not to approach those who have fallen into sin in a spirit of arrogance, with a beam in our own eye to remove the speck in his. No, but as Jesus says, we first remove the beam in our own eye in humility so that we can approach those who are mired in sin with the warning that sin leads to death and the good news that Jesus has come to give us life.

So, armed with this knowledge, what do we in Christ’s Church make of the news that now in America marriage is officially defined contrary to God’s definition in Genesis:

Genesis 1:27-28  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Genesis 2:24  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
As Jesus Himself said: Therefore what God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

So what is the Church’s job, and our job as individual members of the Church, in the face of a world that has tossed God’s gift of marriage to the curb?
Just as Jesus said, our job is to remove the beam from our eye in humility and then to “confess Him before men” and to “speak the truth in love” to lead others to repentance.

So first, especially now, we in the Church should examine our own lives and in humility admit that marriage has not always been honored in our midst, either. Adultery, frivolous divorce for unbliblical reasons, the wandering eyes of lust, living together without benefit of marriage, husband and wife trying to lord it over each other and delighting in causing pain to one another, encouraging strife in the marriages of family or friends with meddling and gossip, etc., etc. There is no one in this room who can’t confess to at least one of those sins which diminish marriage.

Well, in the church we are not afraid of confessing our sins, for we worship Jesus who said that it is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick and that he has come to save sinners, of whom I am chief. And it is from the power of Jesus’ forgiveness that we receive power to go forth into our lives and seek to do better – to grow into our Lord’s image of kindness and godliness and faithfulness to the Father’s plan.

So we are not afraid to look at ourselves in the mirror and remove the beam. We must also not shrink from our duty to remove the speck in our neighbor’s eye and to speak the truth in love. This is what the New Testament says about the issue in the news:

Romans 1:18-28  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.  24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,  25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.  26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.  28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11  Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

There is nothing new under the sun. The New Testament talks about these issues, which we think of as very modern, progressive issues, because they were very big issues in the world that Jesus and St. Paul preached in. Rome, in fact, had views of matrimony that line up very nicely with the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Yes, the world surrounding the early church was just crazy, just as morally bankrupt as our world; in pagan Rome they believed in what we think of as the 1960’s version free love; they also had celebrities (emperors even!) who decided they would like to change their gender, and they celebrated and approved of relations “contrary to nature” as St. Paul puts it.

That’s the “old-fashioned” way, the way of Rome. It’s neither modern nor progressive; it’s ancient and it’s pagan. The modern, progressive morality was from Christianity. And that ancient, pagan world discovered that Christianity was telling the truth because Christians stood by what the Bible says and were not embarrassed of it, nor were they afraid of those who persecuted them for standing by the truth. The Church of the first centuries lived in a moral cesspool exactly like our own day time TV shows and the disastrously salacious lives of our celebrities. But by living godly lives and holding fast to the teaching of God’s Word, the Christians of those days demonstrated to the ancient world that God’s Word was truth and pointed to a better way of life.

And the ancient world was converted. And the old pagan morality, which was not morality at all but an indulgence in every wicked lust, was cast aside. And so you were blessed to grow up in a world that did uphold basic, godly morality because of the inheritance of Biblical morality passed down through the ages due to the faithfulness of those first Christians whose lives of godliness inspired the conversion of the ancient Roman world.

But now the world has largely grown tired of our Lord and His Word and we are once again in the minority in what was once our own land. Within the span of one short generation we are once again become a Church that is condemned by the intelligentsia, by the rich and famous, by those in power in the culture and the government.

And so what shall we do? How shall we live? Will we have the courage of the saints of old who would stand up on the Word of God in the face of all sorts of pressure? Will we love the world enough to distinguish between right and wrong and to stand by the right? We will love our children enough to raise them in the fear and instruction of the Lord and teach them what the Bible says without fear? Will we love our family members enough to warn them away from dishonoring marriage in ways small and large?

By the grace of God. Only by the grace of God.

Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who repent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding…